Posts tagged ‘Digital Footprint’

Does the Shoe Fit – What Is Your Digital Footprint?

I was inspired to write this post due to an article in this week’s Wall Street Journal titled, “Creating An Online Presence Is Essential For Job Hunters,” by Marty Orgel. In this article, the author stresses the importance of creating an online presence to aid in job search and placement. Googling potential job applicants is becoming common practice in today’s Web 2.0 job search environment. According to a recent article in Harvard Business Review, “Your CV is no longer what you send to your employer – it’s the first ten things that show up on Google” (Coutu, 2007). Results of a Google search are part of your online presence. This presence is often called your “digital footprint”. So what is your digital footprint? And how big is it?

How big is our digital footprint?

According to, your digital footprint is the trace you leave through your activity in a digital environment. This is commonly believed to be your visits to websites, searches, online profiles, email, blog or forum posts, etc. But your digital footprint can go even farther than that. For example, try out this online simulator that illustrates how you leave a digital footprint each day. Another resource that you can use to find out how quickly your digital footprint grows is the Digital Footprint Calculator. This calculator illustrates how much information you create and add to the digital universe each day. Another interesting article to help you track your digital footprint with iGoogle Widgets is described here if you want to voluntarily hand it [your digital footprint] over.

How do I create a digital footprint?

Individuals have both passive and active footprints. Passive footprints occur without any intervention from the individual. Common examples of passive digital footprints occur via cookies and caching. Most websites that you visit will leave a cookie on your computer. Cookies store information about you on your own computer that can be accessed during later visits to the web site. This is how the computer “recognizes” returning visitors. One particularly nice pro is that you do not have to remember login information at certain sites. For example, I don’t have to “log on” to the Wall Street Journal web site when I use my office computer to access it. It remembers who I am automatically. While this is convenient, cookies placed on my computer can store data that can be matched up with my ISP, my e-mail address, and possibly my home address (if I was to enter personal information into a form). We will discuss cookies more in a later post. Caching is a method of storing information that browsers and search engines use to record web sites or search terms for later use. If you want to reduce your passive footprints, you might delete these cookies and caches, follow steps listed in articles such as the following “Step Carefully: Covering Digital Footprint Is Key to Web Privacy”, by Brian O’Connell, or “Footprints in Cyberspace“, by Michele Alperin. But to completely prevent adding any additions to your footprint, you might crawl into a cave in the wilderness, hunt and grow your own food, and play marbles for entertainment.

Active footprints are information that we voluntarily contribute – such as personal or professional websites, vitas, photos, email, blogs, publications, etc. Creating a profile on a social networking site or commenting or posting to a blog is an active footprint – even if you don’t want your boss to see it. Terry (2008) discusses how employers and potential employers use the web to evaluate individuals. The article quotes Ryan Vartoogian, president of Spartan Internet Consulting Corp., as saying “It gives us a general idea of the professionalism of a candidate.” The article also cites a December 2007 study by that suggests 45% of employers reported using online search engines or social networking sites to research job candidates. Thus, with the advent of Web 2.0 (the term describing the trend on the WWW to toward collaboration, information sharing, and social networking), active footprints are becoming more prevalent and thus it may be in your interest to manage yours.

Why do we care about our digital footprint?

According to a Pew Internet Report, 47% of individuals have searched for information about themselves online. This has often been called a “vanity” search or an “ego” search. Whatever the negative connotation, they are wise searches to do – especially for upcoming college graduates. According to the study, more than half of all adult internet users have used a search engine to follow someone else’s footprints. 11% of these users were looking for information about someone they were thinking about hiring. 19% were looking for information on co-workers, professional colleagues or business competitors. According to the survey, they were looking for contact information (72%), professional accomplishments or interests (37%), profile on social or professional networking sites (33%), photos (31%), public records, (31%), and personal background information (28%).

Other interesting results from the Pew Internet survey suggest that “10% of internet users have a job that requires them to self-promote or market their name online”; “20% of American adults say their employers have special policies about how employees can present themselves online”; and “90% of information an individual locates about themselves say most of what they find is accurate”.

Be proactive. Manage your online footprint. Reduce the elasticity of your services by making your footprint stand out. Do this through such things as intelligent blog entries, joining websites of professional organizations, publishing papers online, and creating a professional website. Don’t make careless online blog or forum entries or post inappropriate personal pictures on social networking sites. Build your online reputation. Your name is your personal brand. Build your brand recognition. You might even consider buying your name as a domain name. The TLDs .name and .me have been set aside for just that purpose.

As an aside, sometimes your digital footprint gets tangled in a mass of footprints by others - many of which share the same name. The individuals sharing your name on the Internet are now being dubbed “googlegangers”. If you are lucky enough to have the same name as famous individuals, then making your name stand out will be more difficult. In some cases there is little that you can do about it. If a search of your name yields undesirable results about individuals that may be mistaken as you, you might share this with a potential employer if you think this may make a difference.

Articles Cited and Further Reading

“Footprints in Cyberspace,” by Michele Alperin, 01/30/08,

“We Googled You”. By: Coutu, Diane, Palfrey, Jr., John G., Joerres, Jeffrey A., Boyd, Danah M., Fertik, Michael, Harvard Business Review, 00178012, Jun2007, Vol. 85, Issue 6

“How to Track Your Digital Footprint with iGoogle Widgets,” Virginia DeBolt,, accessed 7, 23, 2008.

“Digital Footprints: Online identity management and search in the age of transparency,” by Mary Madden, Susannah Fox, Aaron Smith, and Jessica Vitak, 12/16/2007,

“Step Carefully: Covering Digital Footprint Is Key to Web Privacy”, Brian O’Connell, NODA Federal Credit Union,

“What Is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software”, Tim O’Reilly, 09/30/2005,,

“Creating An Online Presence Is Essential For Job Hunters”, Marty Orgel, Wall Street Journal, July 23, 2008,

“Leaving a digital footprint: Online activities follow students to job interviews, professional world,” Joseph Terry, The State News, February 7, 2008,